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The Story of Chief
Transforming a rescue horse into a jewel

There are many horses available these days for little or no cost to someone who can provide them with a good home. Chief was one such horse. On a late September afternoon in 2011, the lady who keeps horses she buys and sells in the adjoining pasture called to me over the fence. She complained that the family who bought Chief two years earlier insisted that she take him back. The horse-trader said Chief was horribly underweight and too old to resell (twenty-one –years old) so, she was going to have him euthanized. A quarter horse, he reined in his youth but his adult years were spent as a trail horse. Physically, he was sound, she mentioned, although his behavior was a problem. He was inclined to become stubborn and uncontrollable, but it wasn’t anything a good bit and spurs couldn’t cure.

After discussing Chief’s fate with my assistant Bryce, I offered to bring the horse to Iron Horse Park. Two days later we brought that skin and bones chestnut home. His ribs and hip-bones protruded and his head drooped so low that his nose nearly touched the ground. His eyes were downcast and listless. He showed no emotion as I walked him from the horse-trader’s pasture to ours.

As the days and weeks flew by, Chief rapidly gained weight. However, he did not like humans and would hide behind the other horses. His eyes remained dull and emotionless. He submitted to walking beside Bryce and being groomed with resignation. He showed neither joy nor interest. He simply did what he was asked like a robot.

During the first six months he was too thin and weak to be ridden, but Bryce spent many hours grooming Chief and tryinging to engage him in activities. I must admit that at times he seemed to be a lost cause. It’s easier to engage an angry but energetic horse than one who shows no emotion and will only move if asked.

But, bit by bit, Chief transformed before our eyes. He became curious when Bryce rewarded him with an edible treat for touching something with his nose. He started to raise his head when we came into view and walk up to us for a pat on the neck or a back scratch. Gradually his eyes began to sparkle. During this time Bryce began matching feet with Chief; walking in straight lines and circles, over cavelettis, and trotting and cantering a little at his side. As a trail horse he was accustomed to following other horses so happily moved in unison with her steps.

When she mounted him it was another matter altogether. Chief spent the first few rides tossing his head as he searched for the heavy contact of a bit. Before long he became comfortable with the bit-less bridle and began responding to the increase of Bryce’s energy; the slight shift of her weight; and turn of her hips, legs, and shoulders. Step by step, Chief began moving with her; five walk strides and then a halt increased to twenty walk strides before halting. They added trots, turns on the forehand and hind-quarters, lateral steps and multiple sets of canter strides.

What a change! Chief has begun to show-off and is always ready to take on a new challenge. He has bonded with Bryce and enjoys being ridden by her. Bryce is looking forward to seeing how far Chief can go by this time next year.

The moral of Chief’s story is this: Just because a horse is up in years does not mean that he is useless. Chief can probably be ridden for five or more years before he retires from riding. When treated with kindness horses like Chief are perfect for children, beginning riders, and anyone who enjoys leisurely trail rides. If you are looking for a horse to love, look into a rescue horse. Many are out there waiting for someone to care for them.

Chris Forte is the owner of the Equine Behavioral Health Resource Center. This article was first printed in the Equestrian Connection: the Pacific Horse Advertiser, February, 2012.

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